Mayor MVP, Katz first star in arena project

TERRY JONES, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 12:00 AM ET

In the end, Daryl Katz proved that he’s still Edmonton.

In the end, the Edmonton Oilers owner stepped up to do what he had to do to move the downtown arena project a large leap forward toward reality to keep the team here for the next 35 years.

“They moved quite a bit and we moved some,” said mayor Stephen Mandel of what happened in Gary Bettman’s NHL offices in New York this week.

“Mr. Katz was committed to making a deal. They bent. We bent. I think this is a reasonably fair deal.”

Bettman’s off-Broadway showdown will almost certainly go down as a significant moment in Edmonton history now as the mayor, Katz and Bettman achieved the goal of getting the deal not just back on the rails but on a monorail to total approval, as was the mayor’s stated goal going in.

It’s not a done deal. But city council voted to purchase the land Katz had under option by Oct. 21 and to vote on the remains of the “subject-to”s on Oct. 26. If approved, the deal won’t be done until the province comes through with the remaining $100 million. But both Katz and the city appear confident in that conclusion.

The final vote almost certainly, off what we witnessed Friday in council chambers, will be 8-5 again, as was the case May 18 when it was first approved — perhaps even 9-4 or 10-3 this time.

As first projected by your correspondent from New York, it was a the concession by Katz to waive the non-compete clause with Northlands for Rexall Place which was key to the deal.

To make that work, the city got creative by putting up $2 million a year for 10 years of sponsorship money with the Oilers for on-ice advertising, board signs, etc. to promote Edmonton in a deal similar to the promotional money involving the Edmonton Indy and the National Finals Rodeo.

Play of the day

Clearly, dropping the non-compete clause, though, was the play of the day.

“Mr. Katz was very reluctant to do that but moved forward. He was very reluctant to do that, and not just him. It was a big issue, not just for him, but for the commissioner,” said Mandel.

For a city that has consistently lacked the vision of Calgary, this $450-million arena and accompanying entertainment district is going to be a big step, combined with the new $350-million museum $88-million art gallery and $125 million in upgrades to Commowealth Stadium, to actually give Edmonton something to promote with that sponsorship money.

Mandel praised “the courage” of his colleagues on city council — well, not you Tony Catarina, Linda Sloan or Kerry Diotte, who voted against — “for being being willing to build a city.”

“This is big step for the city of Edmonton. Not everyone supports what we do, but many people have the courage to build the city that I think in the past we might not have had.”

There are some other twists and turns from the May 18 framework. Instead of Katz putting $100 million up front, Katz will pay $5.5 million a year over 30 years in lease money to cover his $100-million contribution with the Oilers, and the team guaranteed to remain here over 35 years as previously agreed. And the original ticket tax, which Katz at one point appeared to be pulling off the table, is back in place with an addendum that when the new arena opens the city will not subsidize what is now Rexall Place any further. The city will also operate the facility’s practice rink as a community arena as part of the plan.

Katz, who agreed to pay for half of the pedway over 104th avenue and is still in for $100 million of investment in the downtown arena/entertainment district, stepped up to the point of it being almost double the contribution of the Pittsburgh Penguins in their new arena. And there’s no $5.5-million gaming subsidy like True North is getting from the Manitoba government for the next 20 years to bring the Winnipeg Jets back.

Both the city and Katz seem willing to wait for a new premier to settle in, in hopes that with the rest of the deal done, the province will be there for the citizens of Northern Alberta with the remaining $100 million.

“With about $200 billion over five years and we want $100 million, that’s about .0001%. Or is it .00001%,” said the mayor.

It was getting past non-compete that’s going to make this complete. Our mayor may be Edmonton’s MVP but in this game, Daryl Katz ends up as the first star.


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